OBITUARY: Civil Rights Activist Georgette Imura, 77

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SACRAMENTO — Georgette Imura, a long-time Sacramento activist, died on Dec. 17 after a three-year battle with non-small cell lung cancer. She was 77.

Georgette Imura

Born in the Manzanar concentration camp in 1943, she moved to Sacramento with her family when she was 4 years old and graduated from Sacramento High School.

Imura had a 28-year career with the State Legislature. She was a receptionist for Assemblymember Leroy Greene (1967-68), legislative secretary for Assemblymember Yvonne Brathwaite (1968-72), legislative assistant for Assemblymember Julian Dixon (1972-78), chief of staff for State Sen. Diane Watson (1978-81), staff director for the California State Senate Democratic Caucus (1981-85), and principal consultant for the California State Senate Elections Committee (1985-87).

She held multiple positions in the Office of State Senate President pro Tempore David Roberti from 1987 to 1994, including Senate floor coordinator, legislative director and director of the Office of Asian Pacific Islander Affairs. She was the owner of Liberty Consulting, which specialized in government and community relations and coalition development, from 1995 to 2006.

Along with her friend Maeley Tom, also a former legislative staffer, Imura was known as an advocate for the Asian Pacific Islander community in the State Capitol at a time when there was little or no API representation among legislators.

Georgette and Roy Imura at last year’s Sacramento JACL Crab Feed. (Photo by Lorna M. Fong)

Imura was first vice chair of the Council of Asian Pacific Islanders Together for Advocacy and Leadership (CAPITAL) and a member of the Japanese American Citizens League and the Asian Pacific Youth Leadership Project Board of Directors, where she was president from 2006 to 2011.

In 2003, she was appointed by Assembly Speaker Herb Wesson to serve on the California Cultural and Historical Endowment Board. In 2014, Gov. Jerry Brown appointed her to the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing.

After retiring in 2006, Imura devoted much of her time to serving the API community as a volunteer, serving on the boards of the California Asian Pacific Islander Legislative Caucus Institute, CAPITAL, and Asian Legal Services Outreach.

Imura was recognized by a number of organizations for her community service. She received the CAPITAL Foundation Profile of Courage award and awards from the Chinese American Council of Sacramento, KVIE Public Television, the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California, Stonewall Democratic Club, Gay and Lesbian Center of Sacramento, and Friends of the California Civil Liberties Public Education Program.

She helped with the redress campaign, efforts to educate students and the public about the Japanese American wartime experience, and the preservation of the state’s Japantowns in Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Jose.

She is survived by her husband Roy, 77, and sons Todd, 52, and Aaron, 45.

Some remembrances from her friends:

Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi (D-Torrance): “Another great community leader lost. I first met Georgette Imura when I was in college in the late 1980s and there were no Asian Americans in the California Legislature. Georgette, you made a difference in the lives of many, including mine. Rest in peace.”

Former Assemblymember Mariko Yamada (D-Davis): “Oh, 2020. Georgette Imura 12/17, and today (12/23), Dean Murakami [professor at American River College]. Thank you for your lives of service and sacrifice. Honored by your friendship and support; you will be so deeply missed. Namu Amida Butsu.

Ronald Wakabayashi, former national director, JACL; former regional director, Department of Justice Community Relations Service: “Georgette Imura passed last night. Losing her and Rose Ochi in the same week is so very sad. Georgette and Maeley Tom were the dynamic duo of the California Asian American community since the 1970s. The two inseparable friends transformed the California Legislature, pioneering an Asian American presence that brought the community into state government.

“We had a Zoom call celebrating her recent birthday. Everyone on the call was initially anxious. We knew Georgette was very ill, but this was a birthday occasion. What and how to say felt complex. She recognized our discomfort and addressed it, giving us space and place to engage. It was so generous an act. It was typical of her. We’re so fortunate that Georgette Imura touched all of our lives. Gassho.”

Paul Igasaki, former chair and chief judge, Administrative Review Board, U.S. Department of Labor; former chair and vice chair, U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission: “Very sad. I first got to know Georgette and Maeley Tom in my Sacramento days. More than elected officials, the two of them were the Asian American political voices in California state politics.”

Bill Wong, former member, Sacramento Planning Commission; former member, California Commission on APIA Affair; former member, Capitol Area Committee: “One of my favorite quotes from Georgette Imura as she was once accepting an award for community service was ‘I’m not a big shot. I’m just a little shot that keeps on shootin’.’ She was an amazing mentor and friend that embodied a unique and magical blend of wisdom, courage, perseverance, integrity, humility, and compassion. She was a fierce advocate for the community and the underprivileged. She always made time to provide thoughtful guidance and encouragement to young staff.

“She set high standards and she led by example. When I was an intern in the State Senate I would say to myself: ‘When I grow up, I want to be just like Georgette Imura.’ Alas, I may never reach that high bar, but in honor of her memory I will endeavor to try.”

Keith Umemoto, California Democratic Party, Democratic National Committee: “Even before one of the dynamic duo in the pink palace with Pro Tem David Roberti, Georgette was one of a few AAPI staffers in the Senate, and a mover and shaker that the community and Senate Dems are indebted to.”

Floyd Mori, former California assemblyman, former JACL national president, former president/CEO,
Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies: “Georgette was one of three pioneer Asian American staffers at the California State Legislature when I was elected in 1975. She, Karen and Maeley were effective staffers who paved the way for many to follow. We have so much to be thankful for the dedicated life of Georgette. Karen Sonoda was an early hire for me along with David Takashima. Karen, who later worked for [Speaker] Willie Brown, passed too early with cancer. David is still around and worked for many legislative leaders and recently for [San Francisco] Mayor Ed Lee.

“Hard to imagine that it was only 45 years ago when AAPIs just began to be seen as professional staffers. Thank you to Georgette for leading the way.”

Dale Shimasaki, former aide to Assembly Speaker Willie Brown; former executive director, Civil Liberties Public Education Fund: “She was the first person I met when I started work here in Sacramento. Helped me meet the API community. A true warrior and friend. May she RIP.”

Carole Hayashino, former president, Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii; former member, Marin Community College District Board: “We lost one of our women warriors last night. Rest in peace, Georgette. Love to Roy Imura and family. Okage sama de.

Joanne Kumamoto, partner, Kumamoto Associates: “So sorry to learn about Georgette’s passing. With the loss of Georgette and Rose [Ochi], the Japanese American and Asian communities will miss two pioneering leaders. Time to reflect on their contributions. I personally will miss their friendship.”

 

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